Category Archives: Benefits of Leisure

#BellLetsTalk – Community Recreation as a Context for Mental Health Recovery

bell-lets-talkIn previous years, on #BellLetsTalk day, I have highlighted leisure’s role in mental health, explored how the digital age may be affecting our mental health, and have focused specifically on the interaction between depression and leisure. This year I wanted to focus attention on a recent article published by a collection of Canadian scholars about the important role that community recreation plays in mental health recovery (Fenton, White, Gallant, Hutchinson, & Hamilton-Hinch, 2016).

Fenton et al. (2016) indicate that participation in community recreation activities and contexts is often an overlooked and undervalued means to support mental health recovery. Their focus is on social inclusion or participation in society/community. Individuals with mental health problems often experience social exclusion in a number of ways including being excluded from consumption activities (e.g., lack of income), production activities (e.g., employment), services (e.g., transportation, health services), social relations or social interaction (e.g., isolated networks) and political engagement (e.g., having a voice; Boardman, 2011). Therefore, a identifying ways in which community recreation can support social inclusion offers a valuable contribution to mental health recovery.

Elements of Recovery

Prior to discussing the role of community recreation in social inclusion and mental health recovery, it is important to highlight some of the common elements in recovery from mental illness. Davidson, O’Connell, Tondora, Lawless, and Evans (2005) review of the literature related to recovery offered a number of common elements including:

  • Redefining self in a way that allows individuals to re-conceptualize mental illness as simply one aspect of a multi-dimensional identity
  • Incorporating illness sees an individual accepting the limitations imposed by their illness while also discovering the possibilities for achieving various goals
  • Becoming involved in meaningful activities of one’s choice
  • Being supported by others be they family members, colleagues, or friends in ways that offer encouragement and a celebration of positive experiences, steps, or outcomes
  • Overcoming stigma often requires individuals to be resilient in the face of the social consequences and societal stigma associated with mental illness
  • Managing symptoms involves actively participating in one’s treatment and making choices that help bring symptoms under control including during difficult times or when setbacks occur.

Davidson et al. (2005) summarize the key elements by indicating that recovery as “a redefinition of one’s illness as only one aspect of a multidimensional sense of self capable of identifying, choosing, and pursuing personally meaningful goals and aspirations despite continuing to suffer the effects and side effects of mental illness” (p. 483).

Benefits of Community Recreation

Recreation can be defined as an  “experience that results from freely chosen participation in physical, social, intellectual, creative and spiritual pursuits that enhance individual and community wellbeing” (Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council and Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, 2015, p. 4). What recreation is and includes can offer much to individuals with mental illnesses as related to some of the elements of recovery. First, recreation involves choice and thus giving individuals the opportunity to exercise control and choose meaningful activities – ones that may help with incorporating illness and with the redefining of self. Recreation activities can provide individuals with a valued identity such as musician or quilter or volunteer (Iwasaki et al., 2014) that allow them to characterize and define themselves beyond their illness. The existing evidence also suggests that community recreation is a chance for social interaction in which individuals with mental illness can develop their social skills, build their social and support networks, and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion (Fenton et al., 2017).

Recreation as a Community Arena that Supports Social Inclusion

Fenton et al. (2016) talk about community recreation as a “community arena” – a space in which individuals feel safe and supported to fully participate without being concerned about being defined by their mental illness or mental health problems. These are private and public leisure and recreation spaces in which individuals are viewed as community members, as participants, and as citizens participating in recreation rather than clients participating in therapy.  It is in these community arenas where leisure interests are explored and the development of leisure roles and identities are fostered.

It is also within the community arenas where individuals may vary their participation while still feeling and being included. This could mean rather than running as a participant on a team in the annual Run for the Cure event, an individual volunteers to help with registration or at the water station along the run. Community arenas are flexible in the opportunity offered for individuals to participate.

Working to Reduce the Barriers to Recreation

While recreation participation in community arenas can promote social inclusion of individuals with mental health problems and offer additional benefits that support recovery, Fenton et al. (2016) explain that many individuals are not able to access recreation. The symptoms of the mental health problems (e.g., depression) may interfere with participation (e.g., motivation). Individuals may not have someone to participate with (e.g., lack of social network). They may also face a number of structural barriers – lack of transportation, lack of finances, and even social barriers such as stigma or discrimination.

Stigma, in particular, has been identified as a barrier that can have more impact than the illness itself (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2012). The portrayal and perception of individuals with mental health problems as dangerous or unpredictable undermines opportunities for participation in recreation and increases the risk that these individuals will experience social exclusion (Fenton et al., 2016). With this being the case, one can hope that initiatives like “Bell Let’s Talk Day,” which strives to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, support, both indirectly and directly, the development and expansion of community arenas in which individuals with mental illness are accepted as participants and valued as community members.

Ultimately, Fenton et al. (2016) recommend and discuss a variety of intersectoral collaboration initiatives that could work to reduce barriers to recreation and to support social inclusion of participants with mental health problems. Their key message is that recreation services must be informed by mental health sector to understand the experiences of those who live with mental illness and what a recovery-oriented model of support involves. At the same time, the mental health sector and individuals with mental illness must value the role of recreation in the recovery of individuals with mental illness. This knowledge exchange is critical to optimizing the engagement of individuals with mental illness in recreation and ensuring that they are participating in community arenas that support them as participants.


Boardman, J. (2011). Social exclusion and mental health – how people with mental health problems are disadvantaged: An overview. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 15(3), 112-121.

Davidson, L., O’Connell, M. J., Tondora, J., Lawless, M., & Evans, A. C. (2005). Recovery in serious mental illness: A new wine or just a new bottle?. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(5), 480-487.

Fenton, L., White, C., Gallant, K. A., Gilbert, R., Hutchinson, S., Hamilton-Hinch, B., & Lauckner, H. (2017). The benefits of recreation for the recovery and social inclusion of individuals with mental illness: an integrative review. Leisure Sciences, 39(1), 1-19.

Fenton, L., White, C., Gallant, K., Hutchinson, S., & Hamilton-Hinch, B. (2016). Recreation for mental health recovery. Leisure/Loisir, 40(3), 345-365.

Iwasaki, Y., Coyle, C., Shank, J. W., Messina, E., Porter, H., Salzer, M., … Koons, G. (2014). Role of leisure in recovery from mental illness. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 17(2), 147–165.

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives. Mental
health strategy of Canada. Calgary, AB. Retrieved from





Adult Colouring Trend: Adults Revisiting a Childhood Leisure Activity or Is it Something Else?

As a child, I always loved colouring and, in recent years, as an adult, I have embraced  opportunities to colour with my nieces. At restaurants where the tables are covered with brown kraft paper and crayons are placed on the table, I always experience a feeling of joy. I appreciate being given the chance and permission to create and colour in an adult setting.

adult coloring self care in leisure

Photo Credit: Nicolas Buffler

But in 2015, colouring moved from being an activity that was primarily engaged in by children to one that was important to adults. The growth of the activity was supported with the introduction of wide variety of colouring books and fancy coloured pencil sets. In fact, adult colouring books were among the most popular books in 2015 in United States and Canada. On, three of the top 10 books for the year were adult colouring books and there were five colouring books on the top 10 books list.

In 2015, Facebook groups were created for adults to share their completed coloring pages or their works in progress. Events and meet ups were hosted for adult colourers. In January 2016, an adult coloring night event (Martin & Ouellet, 2016) for charity in Toronto sold out! Coloring nights have been a low-tech hit at libraries as well with a number of small town and urban libraries offering “color and connect” nights for adults in the community. In my community, even a local wine bar capitalized on the adult colouring trend by hosting adult colouring nights (its first colouring night was held in November 2015).

colouring as leisure

So what is the appeal of adults returning to an activity that was likely a part of their leisure when they were children? Is it nostalgia? Is it the relatively inexpensive nature of the activity (although some people are willing to pay up to $168 for a box of coloured pencils; Martin & Ouellet, 2016). Is it that it can be done anywhere and at anytime? Is that you can enjoy the activity for 5 minutes and later pick up where you left off with relative ease? Is it that as your time devoted to the activity accumulates, you have a finished product?

Currently, there is very limited academic research on the adult colouring phenomenon and it focuses mainly on colouring as art therapy. However, several popular press articles have been written that offer other explanations for the surge in popularity.

Colouring as a Beneficial Form of Play

There is certainly an argument to be made that colouring has become popular among adults because of “a growing trend where more adults are seeking opportunities for play, largely due to the increased recognition of the health benefits it offers” (Umpathy, 2015). Adult life can is full of obligations some of which can be stressful. Play offers a break from work and other day-to-day commitments. Play also stimulates the brain, supports problem-solving and creativity, and is important to relationships (Brown, 2009).

Colouring as Form of Meditation and Supporting Mindfulness

In one The Atlantic article, Beck (2015), suggests that the trend in adult colouring might best fit with trends related to meditation and mindfulness. Colouring brings our focus to doing one thing (assuming you’re also not trying to watch television or help your child with his/her homework). The patterns associated with certain colouring page designs and the repetition associated with is relaxing and calming for some.

The notion that colouring is a form of meditation has been supported by the research of Curry and Kasser (2011) who found colouring did draw participants into a meditative state  and allowed them to experience a reduction in feelings of anxiety – if the piece they were colouring was complex enough. “Coloring a mandala for 20 minutes is more effective at reducing anxiety than free-form coloring for 20 minutes”(Curry & Kasser, 2005, p.83). This finding that colouring a mandala might be the type of design that best represents a meditative practice was further supported in a more recent replication study (van der Vennet & Serice, 2012).

mandela adult coloring

Mandala Design

Colouring as a Microflow Experience

Some adult colourers have found colouring offers them a flow experience (McDonald, 2016). Flow is a mental state in which one is so completely absorbed in an experience that time and space and self no longer disrupt the present moment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). While colouring can certainly produce feelings similar to flow – being focused, feeling competent in the task we are engaged in, being in “the zone” where time passes without our awareness, Csikszentmihalyi (1990) argues that true flow requires us to stretch our mind or body to accomplish something. Since it is unlikely that colouring pushes us in this way, Csikszentmihalyi believes that colouring could be a microflow experience (Roston, 2016). Microflow does not involve the same level of arousal that flow does – that peak mental arousal when there is a balance between our high level of skill and a fairly high level of challenge. Rather, colouring may be a small, flow-like experience that offsets the boredom that we would otherwise feel when time passes slowly (Whitbourne, 2015). Because with colouring, our skill level is quite high and the challenge level fairly low, we have the opportunity to experience is as a relaxing activity as opposed to one in which we experience high mental arousal.

Colouring as Social Activity and Opportunity to Connect

With the number of out-of-home colouring events advertised, it is difficult to ignore the opportunity for social interaction that may be offered to colourers. In situations where individuals are colouring at a social or meet-up event, I suspect that there is less chance that someone may experience it as meditation and it may not facilitate the same degree of mindfulness that solitary colouring might. However, certainly the opportunity to colour with others can foster social interaction among individuals who share an interest and help develop a sense of belonging. As I mentioned above, libraries, such as the Lethbridge Public Library in Alberta (below), are incorporating adult colouring into their program offerings. The library offers to supply participants with what they need making it a no-cost activity for those who may not be able to afford colouring books or coloured pencils or for those who want to try the activity without committing to purchasing supplies until they know they like it.



Adult colouring is a phenomenon that has offered adults opportunities to access a variety of benefits associated with leisure. It can be a solitary, meditative activity. It can be a social activity that allows you to engage in an interest with others. It can serve as a break from routine and the stresses of everyday life. It can foster creativity. It can be a way to meaningfully relieve boredom while stimulating your brain. If you have yet to engage in adult colouring activities, it may be worth trying (maybe at a no-cost event) to assess what the activity might offer you!


Beck, J. (2015, November 4). The zen of the adult coloring books. The Atlantic. Available at:

Brown, S. L. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York, Avery.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85.

Martin, L., & Ouellet, V. (2016, January 23). Adult colouring book nights sell out fast in Toronto. CBC News. Available at:

McDonald, J. (2016). Coloring flow. Available at:

Roston, T. (2016). Why grown-ups love coloring books too. Available at:

Umapathy, K. (2015).  Adult coloring books capitalize on Play Trends.” PSFK blog.

van der Vennet, R., & Serice, S. (2012). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 87-92.

Whitbourne, S. K. (2015). Maximize your happiness by turning on your microflow. Available at:










Leisure’s Role in Happiness: 6 Leisure Tips on International Day of Happiness

Leisure is a life domain that plays a significant role in an individual’s overall happiness. Therefore, it only seems appropriate that on International Day of Happiness (#happinessday) to present some of the research on the relationship between leisure and happiness.  Most simply, happiness is defined as feeling good, enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained (Layard, 2005). In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of research related to happiness (e.g., positive psychology movement). The popularity of books such as The Happiness Project and Happier at Home along with the introduction of the magazine Live Happy demonstrate a growth in a desire to explore concepts related to happiness and/or find, increase, or maintaining individual happiness.

international day of happiness_happiness and leisure

1. Choose your leisure activities carefully. The type of activity you participate in matters – different leisure activities have differing impacts on happiness. Wang and Wong (2011a) found six activities – shopping, reading books, attending cultural events, getting together with relatives, listening to music, and attending sporting events – were associated with higher levels of happiness. They also found that more time spent on the internet decreased the probability of an individual feeling “very happy” and increased the likelihood that an individual feeling “not at all happy”. Other research has found that participation in social activities is associated positively with happiness (Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003) while watching TV generally relates negatively to overall happiness (Bruni & Stanca, 2008). Stebbins (2014) singles out serious leisure (those fulfilling activities in which one has persevered, developed specialized knowledge and skill, enjoyed a leisure career, and experienced special benefits such as a sense of belonging) as offering opportunities for more enduring or long-term happiness than “casual” forms of leisure  for which are primarily pursued for the short-term pleasure they bring.

2. Focus on quality leisure not quantity. Since so many of feel time pressed in today’s busy world, this next research finding may be promising. While you might like to have more time to engage in leisure, at least one study has found that the quantity of leisure is not as important as other aspects of leisure such as the satisfaction one derives from leisure activities and the meaning of leisure time (e.g., time with family; time to connect with others). Individuals who feel that their leisure activities facilitate the opportunity to be themselves – to be authentic – and help them to strengthen relationships with others tend to report greater happiness (Wang & Wong, 2011b). Therefore, focusing the ensuring one has quality leisure experiences may be more important to one’s happiness than trying to secure more leisure time.

3. Take vacation time and anticipate the vacation. In a recent study, happy people reported taking more holiday trips in a one-year time frame. Holiday trips boost happiness – at least in the short term (Nawijn & Veenhoven, 2011). While on vacation, people are happier in then they are in their everyday lives and the greatest increase in happiness tends to be during the trip. However, two weeks after returning, that happiness boost disappears suggesting the effect on happiness is relatively short-term. Also important is the idea of anticipation. Those who more strongly anticipated their holiday/vacation (e.g., thought about it, researched, planned, prepared) had higher levels of happiness than those who anticipated to a lesser degree (Hagger, 2009).

4. Leave work out of your leisure. When you are having leisure time – taking the dog for a walk, enjoying dinner with a friend, watching a movie – avoid thinking about work. Research suggests that individuals who frequently think about work in their free time tend to be less happy than others (Wang & Wong, 2011b).

5. Money can buy happiness. It does seem, however, that happiness depends on what you are spending money on (DeLeire & Kalil, 2010). Researchers have found that consuming leisure or material goods that facilitate leisure (e.g., movie tickets, gym memberships, trips and vacations, sports events and performing arts, materials related to hobbies, athletic equipment) is positively related to happiness. Consuming other material goods such as cars, appliances, computers, clothing, and televisions is unrelated to happiness. The researchers believed that one of the reasons leisure consumption increased happiness was through the relational component of leisure. Engaging in some of the leisure experiences identified above affords opportunities to reduce isolation and offers opportunities for social connection through social networks.

6. Maintain your participation in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). Your levels of LTPA can have an influence on your mood status. A recent study by Wang et al. (2012) found that a change in activity status from being inactive to being active could protect against unhappiness over time. And, a change from being active to inactive increased the odds of becoming unhappy 2 years later. The lesson from this study – get active, stay active, and build some protection against unhappiness.

These various pieces of research suggest that focusing on the leisure domain of one’s life may be a fine place to start if you are looking for ways to increase or maintain your happiness. Time for swap out television and internet time for physical activity, hobbies, and social leisure. Spending some time and money on vacation and leisure experiences like concerts or the movies might also be the way to go.  And the good news is the happiness is only one of the many positive outcomes associated with taking time to participate in leisure!

Happy International Day of Happiness.


Bruni, L., & Stanca, L. (2008). Watching alone: Relational goods, television and happiness. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 65 (3), 506-528.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: The uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4(2), 185-199.

DeLeire, T., & Kalil, A. (2010). Does consumption buy happiness? Evidence from the United States. International Review of Economics, 57(2), 163-176.

Hagger, J. C. (2009). The impact of tourism experiences on post retirement life satisfaction. Adelaide, Australia: The University of Adelaide.

Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. New York: Penguin.

Nawijn, J. (2011). Determinants of daily happiness on vacation. Journal of Travel Research, 50 (5), 559-566.

Nawijn, J., & Veenhoven, R. (2011). The effect of leisure activities on life satisfaction: The importance of holiday trips. In I. Brdar (Ed.), The human pursuit of well-being: A cultural approach (pp 39-53). New York: Springer.

Stebbins, R. A. (2014). Leisure, happiness, and positive lifestyle. In S. Elkington, & S. J. Gammon (Eds.). Contemporary perspectives in leisure: Meanings, motives, and lifelong learning (pp. 28-38). New York: Routledge.

Wang, F., Orpana, H. M., Morrison, H., de Groh, M., Dai, S., & Luo, W. (2012). Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: Analysis of the prospective National Population Health Survey. American Journal of Epidemiology, 176(12), 1095-1100.

Wang, M., & Wong, M. C. S. (2011a), A Snapshot of Happiness and Leisure across Countries: Evidence from International Survey Data (May 23, 2011). Available at SSRN:

Wang, M. & Wong, M. C. S. (2011b) Leisure and happiness in the United States: Evidence from
survey data. Applied Economics Letters, 18, 1813-1816.

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